kubis: (GK - Brad and Nate bw)
[personal profile] kubis

For One Moment Longer

It was a long way home this time. Brad went from windy Afghanistan to rainy Britain and finally back to sunny California in a matter of weeks and now he wondered what the hell was he thinking. It looked like wherever the Marine Corps sent him, it was always a fuck up, and somehow he always ended up coming back for more. Hardly ever had he asked himself why.

Fuck, he was tired.

He went through all the tests and all the paperwork on autopilot. You’re never quite sure you’ve arrived home when you’re still bound to the base, that weird no man’s land. Brad longed for his bike and an open road, and for his board and the ocean, but he was also looking forward to just be in his own house for a change. He missed sleeping in his bed, trying hopelessly to fit on his couch, jerking off in his shower and eating at his own fucking kitchen table. Now that he was back, he had his empty home, his own space, and over a month of leave to spend however he wanted. No one could stop him now.

Aside from his family, of course.

“Hi, Mom,” Brad answered the phone, after Nolan dropped him off. He stood on the sidewalk and looked at his house. He breathed in and out.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Ray asked, opening the door.

“I’m happy you’re still alive too,” Brad said in answer. “Oh wait, let me think it over…”

“Always so dramatic,” Ray sighed and patted him on the shoulder. “Come on, we were waiting for you.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“No, we weren’t. Come on before there’s no beer left.”

The guys were sitting on the patio, occupying various kinds of chairs as well as little steps and, in Rudy’s case, grass. A few of them stood up to greet him and the rest grinned at him, as if they forgot he was an asshole to them most of the time. Semper fi: you may be a fucking asshole, but we’re always going to be glad you made it back.

“Gents,” he said in greeting, taking a cold beer from Ray.

“Brad, you’re a sight for sore eyes.” Gunny Wynn smiled at him and shook his hand. “Someone has to help keep these guys in check.”

“That’s on you, Gunny,” Brad said, ignoring a few lazy indignant heys.

“Traitor,” Wynn muttered, but he was still smiling, sitting down.

Brad grinned, showing teeth. He sat down next to Wynn and drank his beer slowly. Guys started to pick up the conversations where they were interrupted by his arrival and Brad let himself relax a little, felt the muscles give.

“How are you, Brad?” Mike asked, in that noncommittal way of his.

“Good,” he said, nodding once. “Glad to be back stateside, I have to say. There’s nothing like the Pacific out there.”

“You’re going to spend all of your free time in the ocean now, aren’t you?”

“All two glorious months of my vacation.” Brad smiled at the thought.

“Bo-ring,” Ray interrupted, sitting at the other side of Brad. “Seriously, Bradley, live a little.”

“Thank you, Josh,” Brad said, hiding his smile. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

“You should.”

They shot the shit for awhile, getting back into it as if they had not gone without seeing each other for two years. Brad still wasn’t sure how they became friends, but grudgingly admitted to himself that they did.

In between beers and barbecue, and pizza, he got updated on everyone’s life. Mike was teaching at the base (maybe they won’t be a complete waste), Ray was engaged (fuck, what did you do to that girl?), Poke and his wife had a new baby girl (she took after Gina, thank God) and Walt was leaving the Corps next month.

“Seems like it’s the right time, you know?”

Brad didn’t know, but it wasn’t really his place to say anything. You can’t keep a guy in the Corps if he doesn’t want to be there. It’s too dangerous to all involved.

“What are you going to do after you leave?” he asked instead, fingers playing on the bottle.

Walt shrugged.

“I’m thinking of going to school.”

“Ah, Walt,” Ray said, throwing the arm around Walt’s shoulders. “A future Ivy Leaguer, aren’t you?”

“Fuck you, you train wreck of a human being.” Walt pushed him away, but he was smiling.

“Ray’s just jealous,” Brad said. “They wouldn’t let him in to any school. They would be too afraid for all the female students and all the animals living on the campus.”

“You wound me, Brad. I don’t like all the animals. Only the really cute ones.”

“Unless you’re drunk,” Brad replied. “But speaking of Ivy Leaguers, how is the LT doing these days? He’s supposed to be an Ivy League graduate soon, right?”

Smooth enough, he hoped, but the guys exchanged weird looks and he frowned.


“Bro, you’re really out of touch,” Poke said and shook his head. He looked at Mike like he was the one that should tell the story. Brad felt sick. He blamed the last beer.

“Someone better start talking fast.”

“He’s not dead or any shit like that,” Ray said quickly and a storm in Brad’s stomach eased up a little.

“Nate’s not at Harvard.” Mike did indeed step up to tell the story and Brad couldn’t help but notice how the rest of the guys fell mostly silent. “PTSD got him a few months after you left. He tried to go to school anyway, but in the end he couldn’t stay there.”

“Last time I talked to him, he mentioned he wants to go back sometime,” Rudy spoke up from his place at the grass.

“Maybe, but I don’t see it happening any time soon,” Mike said. “He has too much to do at Wringley’s and he likes it there.”

Brad tried to process, he really did, but mostly he wanted it to start making sense. Nate was supposed to be at Harvard. He was supposed to move on and have a life most people would envy him for.


“His friend from Afghanistan has a place for soldiers, veterans and their friends-and-relations,” Ray started explaining. “Wringley’s. It’s in Virginia, really close to the Quantico base. LT spent a few months there for his own treatment, now he’s working as a, I don’t know, therapist or something. A mentor, maybe.”

Mike shrugged.

“It’s good for him.” Topic closed.

Brad nodded. There wasn’t much else he could do.

“I’m thinking of going to the East Coast for a while.”

His mom nodded.

“Why east?”

“No reason.” Brad shrugged. “Just a long way to go.”

“You were away from here for two years,” she said, turning to the coffee maker and away from him.

“It’s different,” he said.

“If you say so.” His mother had that passive-aggressive shit all mothers had down to perfection.

“Mom, I can’t stay still for two months and you know it. I’d go crazy and I would either kill myself or you’d kill me for driving you crazy.”

“Brad, you haven’t even been here for a week. I’d say we are a long way from me being sick of you.”

“You will. I have to go, Mom.” If she wasn’t his mother, he wouldn’t be even explaining himself, but well. Mom had privileges no other person had. She’d earned it for the years spent taking care of his shit and not bailing.

“I know you have to. I’m just expressing my displeasure of that.”

“Duly noted,” he said, smiling slightly.

“Take care of yourself at least, okay?”

“I always do.”

“No, you’re spending half your life doing crazy things, Brad. And most of them are the exact opposite of taking care of yourself.”

“It works for me.”

Brad felt like he was reading from a script written years ago. And that was because they actually had that conversation almost every time they had seen each other. It always went like this: his mom worried, he said he was okay, his mom worried some more and then he did whatever he wanted and she dealt.

It would be nice if more of Brad’s relationships with people were like that, without maybe the part about worrying. Nobody had to worry about him.

He couldn’t sleep in his own bed and he couldn’t sleep in his parents’ house. After the usual post-deployment coma that lasted two days, Brad was now unable to sleep more than three hours a night.

He wasn’t happy.

It got better when he started his trip. He rode until three a.m. and he was basically asleep before he landed in his midget motel bed. He was tired enough that he didn’t wake up until eight. Not much, but he guessed it was an improvement.

It wasn’t until he had left Arizona behind him, that it hit him he actually had an end point in mind. His bike swayed a little when he realized he wanted to find Nate in Virginia and ask him what the fuck happened.

He didn’t want to think about how bad it had to get for Nate to even consider leaving Harvard. He remembered how much Nate wanted to study there and how happy he was to get that acceptance letter. Maybe the happiest Brad had ever seen him.

And the sting of pain surprised him. He’d tried not to think of Nate too much for the last two years and apart from the occasional dream or a half-formed memory in the middle of a long night, he succeeded. Nothing more than a typical thought about your ex from time to time. Brad was the one who had said there was nothing long-term between them. So what the fuck was he doing and what was with the what ifs that were appearing in the corners of his mind?

It was a shitty thing to do, Brad knew. To arrive at someone’s door without notice, after you had broken up with that person over two years ago and hadn’t seen them since. Hell, he would be pissed if Jess or Matt came over to his house without notice and they lived in the same city. But knowing it was fucked up didn’t make him change his mind and he did arrive at Nate’s door couple of days after leaving California.

It was almost nine thirty and definitely too late for an unexpected visit. He pressed the door bell ring.

“Hi, Nate,” he whispered, waiting for the door to open.

And then the door opened and a little blond boy in Spider-Man pyjamas looked up at him. Brad would never admit it out loud, but he did have a younger sister, so he had seen a movie that went like that. It didn’t end well.

“Ben, we talked about...”

Nate stepped out of the second door on the left, barefoot, in black slacks and a white shirt that was hanging open, showing off his torso. Brad found himself suddenly wondering if he was in some bizarre romantic comedy alternative reality or just in a really sick wet dream.

“...that.” Nate finished, staring at him. “Okay. Brad.” He blinked. “I didn’t... know you’re coming.”

I thought I’d stop by wasn’t really a good response in a situation like that, Brad suspected. But telling the whole truth would be complicated, especially since he didn’t actually know what that was.

The boy, Ben, looked from Brad to Nate and back.

“So you know him, right? That means it’s okay I opened the door.”

“You didn’t know who I was,” Brad said. He needed to say something at last, but judging from the accusing look he got from the boy, he didn’t win himself any points.

“Don’t open the door until you hear it’s your mom or grandma, Ben. That was the rule.”

Ben shrugged, muttered “sorry” and disappeared into the room down the corridor.

“Damn it,” Nate said quietly and Brad shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m sorry. Please, come in. It’s just... kind of crazy right now.”

If Brad had stopped and thought about how awkward it would get, he still would not come up with that level of awkwardness. But Nate led him to the living room and Brad was moving away from the escape route.

“No, I’m... I’m sorry, I shouldn’t just barge in like that, without calling.”

Nate nodded, whether in agreement or simply accepting his words, Brad didn’t know.

“I’m glad you’re here. I heard you’re back stateside.”

And I heard you’re here.

“Yeah. Now I’m on vacation and a road trip sounded like a right idea.”

“You and your bike.” There was a small, honest smile on Nate’s face for a moment.

“Love of my life,” Brad said without thinking.

“Well, the Corps would be crushed to hear that.” Now the smile was definitely a forced one.

“The Corps is who I am. There’s a difference.”

Nate nodded at that.

“Are you staying around for awhile or you’re just passing by?”

Brad shrugged.

“I don’t have anything planned. I thought about staying around for a few days, until I figure out where to go next. Speaking of,” he said, looking at his watch, “I should probably go look for a motel.”

He stood up and a second later Nate’s fingers were closing on his forearm. Brad tensed and the hand disappeared quickly.

“Don’t be stupid,” Nate said. “You’re not staying in a motel, you’re staying here. No arguing,” he stopped Brad before he could say anything. “My guest room is occupied tonight, but this is a folding couch, so you should be okay.”

“Nate...” Brad started, but Nate was half-way out of the room already.

“Go get your things. I’ll bring you sheets.”

Less than half an hour later Brad was showered and laying on the couch in Nate’s living room. He was staring at the coffee table like it could give him answers about what the fuck had happened tonight.

Two years made a difference, that was obvious. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to know how big a difference it was.

The bomb blew up and the blinding light forced him to close his eyes. Breath in, breath out, he opened them to see a semi-darkness of a strange living room and the green numbers on the DVD recorder’s clock showed a quarter to three.

There was someone in the house. Brad saw the shadow moving in the reflection on tv screen and he sat up without making a sound and took his knife from under the pillow. He turned around to see Nate in a gray Harvard t-shirt and black boxers standing next to the sink in the kitchen right across the hall.

Brad counted to ten, staring at Nate’s back, before he hid the knife back and lay down. He heard a sound of refrigerator being opened and closed and after that a click of the light and footsteps. Nate stopped in the entrance of the living room for a few seconds before going back to his bedroom.

Brad decided to wait a few minutes before doing push-ups, his standard method of trying to get tired enough to get back to sleep, but surprisingly he was asleep less than ten minutes after hearing Nate’s bedroom door closing.

The next time he woke up, the clock read half past six and someone was murdering the door-bell.

“Fuck,” Brad cursed loudly, rolling off of the couch.

“Bad word!” Ben screamed, running to the door. And then he opened it and jumped on a woman standing outside.

Nate came out of the kitchen, with a wide, happy smile. Brad watched from the living room how the woman hugged Nate and kissed him on the cheek.

“Looking good, handsome,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. And then she turned around and saw Brad. “Oh. Speaking of. Hi.”

“Control yourself, Meg,” Nate shook his head, but turned to look at Brad with a smile. “Meg, this is Brad Colbert, he served with me in Iraq. Brad, this is Meg Reynolds, the first friend I made after I came here.”

“The best one,” she added and then she came in to shake Brad’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he nodded and tried for a smile. Judging from the way her smile didn’t falter, he probably succeeded.

She turned back to Nate.

“Listen, thanks again. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She kissed his cheek again and pointed a finger at Ben. “Do you have everything packed? Come on, then, we don’t want to be late to school, right?”

“I don’t mind,” Ben said, trying for innocent. Brad half-turned to hide his smile.

“I bet you don’t,” Meg smiled too. “Come on, we’re going. Bye, Nate. It was nice to meet you, Brad. I hope I’ll see you on a barbecue on Sunday, if you are going to still be here?” She looked at Nate and then back at Brad.

“My pleasure. And it’s hard to say, I don’t know how long I’ll be staying here.”

“As long as you want,” Nate said easily, putting his hand on Brad’s elbow for a moment and letting go, like it was normal. Like there had never been anything else but easy acceptance and open invitation between them. Brad was trying not to just stand there and stare at him, but it took some work.

Nate turned to Meg.

“He’s just anti-social. But I’ll try my best to bring him with me.”

“Great,” she beamed. Brad was starting to worry that she was one of those people unable to not be in a good mood. “See you then.”

A few seconds later the door closed and they stood in silence looking at it.

“Wow,” Brad muttered.

He blinked twice before turning to Nate.

“She’s something, isn’t she?” Nate said, still grinning at the door. “They both are.”

“Nate.” Brad started and stopped, not knowing what to say next. He was really fucking unprepared for all this. It was a mistake.

“Yes?” Nate looked at him and they both just stared at each other for a long moment. Awkwardness was back.

“Listen, I don’t think...”

“Why are you here, Brad?” Nate asked, turning his whole body in Brad’s direction.

I want to know what happened. I want to know what changed.

“I was going crazy at home and had to go out.” The roundabout version was better than none, he supposed. And it worked for his mother. In a way. “East Coast was the furthest destination still in the country.”

“You’re heading to the East Coast next, then?”

Brad shrugged.

“So you were heading to the East Coast and somewhere down the road you decided to visit me?”

He should know it wouldn’t work with Nate. He always had to know more. Brad suddenly got defensive.

“Listen, if it’s a problem, I can go.”

“Fuck you, Brad,” Nate said calmly. “I meant it when I said you can stay as long as you want. And when I said I’m glad you’re here. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ask any questions. We didn’t exactly part on good terms. I wasn’t expecting to see you anywhere outside maybe some big reunions, a wedding or a funeral.”

Brad nodded. It wasn’t like he was planning to show up on Nate’s door when he decided to take his bike and just ride for miles and miles. Not consciously, at least.

“So why are you here, Brad?”

“I heard about what happened. About Harvard,” he pointed at Nate’s t-shirt, which made Nate frown, “and everything. I guess I just wanted to ask you about it. Hear it from you.”

Nate nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“Listen, I understand it’s really not my place to ask.”

“Probably not,” Nate agreed. “But I can answer your questions. I’ve had time to learn how to talk about it, and I did. I just... can’t do that at the drop of a hat. And I certainly can’t do it right now,” he said, looking at the clock. “I have to go to work.”

He stepped back and looked around.

“You should put your stuff in the guest room, it’s yours now. Other than that, feel free to do whatever. I’ll give you my spare keys, in case you want to get out. I’ll be back around eight.”

In the end, Brad decided it definitely could have gone worse.

The barbecue turned out to be at Wringley’s, an event for soldiers and their loved ones. There were well over a hundred people around, Brad estimated. Maybe one hundred and forty.

“Big party,” he said, standing next to Nate near the coolers.

“Yeah, we do this every few months or so,” Nate smiled, looking at the group around the grill. “A break from all the shit we put them through on a daily basis.”

“A bribery, then?” Brad smiled, raising his brows.

“Something like it.”

“You have to bribe me with a beer now, then.”

Nate’s smile was making him look too young and too innocent for Brad’s liking. And not just because he felt like a pervert then.

“Okay, what?”

“I didn’t tell you we don’t have any alcohol here?” Nate was obviously trying not to laugh.

Brad gaped at him.

“You didn’t.”


“Please tell me you’re joking.” Brad wasn’t ready to face all of those people without a beer to keep him from killing someone.

“It’s a rule,” Nate shrugged. “Too many of our members have an alcohol problem. We’re not doing anything that could encourage them.”

Brad nodded. For all that it looked like a country club right now, Wringley’s was a treatment and recovery center. A respected one, from what Brad gathered during his research back in California.

“You’re doing good work here,” he said.

“We try,” Nate put his hands in his jeans pockets before looking at him. “You know, if you’re interested, I can give you a tour sometime next week. You could come in, see our group sessions and classes.” He looked back at the main building of the center. “Right now it’s deserted, so the tour wouldn’t give you much.”

Brad looked at Nate for a few seconds.

“I’d like that.”

“Great. Now, socialize.” Nate was back to trying not to laugh at him too obviously.

“I hate you,” Brad stated calmly. “I’m not leaving your side.”

“That sounds quite contradictory.”

“I’m a masochist.”

“There’s that,” Nate agreed with a smile, tilting his head to the side.

“But I demand a beer after this is over,” Brad added.

“I can live with that,” Nate nodded. “Come on, let’s eat something before I start introducing you around.”

“I can run on an empty stomach, too, you know,” Brad said, but fell in step with Nate anyway.

“Are you saying you’d run away, Brad?” Nate asked, raising his eyebrows.

“A Marine knows when to take a strategic retreat, sir,” Brad said and saw something flash in his eyes, before Nate looked away, nodding.

“Nate!” someone shouted suddenly.

They both turned to see Meg coming quickly in their direction.

“Hi, guys, I’m glad you’re both here,” she said fast, before turning serious. “But I’m afraid Nate’s needed inside. Something with Rick Stevens?” she looked at Nate questioningly.

“Damn it,” Nate muttered, frowning. “Okay, I’ll take care of this.” He turned to Brad. “I’m sorry, but I have to leave you alone for a while, I have to find Will and...”

“Will is already in your office,” Meg interrupted him. “And don’t worry about Brad, I’m sure we can entertain each other, right, Brad?” she grinned at him.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he smiled at her before looking at Nate. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

If he had to be stuck here without Nate, Meg was his best option. And he liked her, despite everything he might or might not be feeling about her and Nate. He was a master of compartmentalization.

Nate looked between him and Meg one more time, before nodding, apparently making a decision.

“Okay, I’ll find you as soon as I can.”

And he was off. Meg looked up at Brad, still grinning.

“Now we’re going to have fun.”

For a little person, Meg could definitely eat, Brad decided. Three turns at the grill and half a bowl of a potato salad later, she patted her stomach and declared herself full.

“I love these Wringley’s barbecues.”

“I can see that,” Brad smirked. She kicked him under the table in retaliation.

“Shut up,” she laughed. “I have a strong appetite. You should have seen me when I was pregnant, I didn’t stop chewing. My jaw hurt from all the eating.”

“Gross,” Brad told her. She rolled her eyes.

“Nate tells me that every other time we have dinner together.”

“He’s nothing if not honest,” Brad stated with a nod.

“He really is. That’s partially why he’s such a good friend,” she said with a soft smile. “He’s not bullshitting you, no matter what.”

"How did you become friends, anyway?”

“I live next door. I came around to welcome him in the neighborhood couple of days after he moved in and we started talking more and more after that.”

“At first I thought you two were dating,” Brad admitted. He still wouldn’t bet they’d never slept with each other.

"Yeah, at first he thought I was after that, too," she laughed. Then she frowned. "He sat me down and told me that a few months back he had his heart broken and he’s not looking for a date. Not to mention that he was just starting his treatment here. Turned out we both just needed a friend."

Brad swallowed his water, longing for a beer.

"When was that?"

"A little over two years now,” she said, smiling, and Brad felt like he was punched in the gut. The memories came back, unwanted, and he had to fight them back hard. It wasn’t the time or the place. Not now, not now. He breathed out slowly.

“... or I’d have some serious explaining to do to my partner,” Meg continued, looking at Ben, who was running around the picnic tables with a stick in his hand and some kind of warrior cry. “Not to mention our kid.”

“Rick’s overseas right now,” she added after a few seconds of silence. “Nate is the closest thing after Ben I have in this area right now. You’re not the first one to wonder.”

Brad had wondered and he would probably feel relieved now, if the words he had his heart broken weren’t still resounding in his head.

They had fun and, despite of everything, it was easy. Up until the end, at least. That was how Brad remembered it. Great sex, no need to explain himself, and the adrenaline of keeping it a secret from a bunch of Recon Marines and command. It didn’t matter that Nate wasn’t his commanding officer anymore. No one could know anyway (although Brad wouldn’t be surprised if someone did figure that out).

In Brad’s opinion, that was also the best way to deal with the fucked up mission Operation Iraqi Freedom turned out to be, but, looking back, it might not had been the best thing to say to a lover in terms of goodbye.

“There’s no need,” Brad said back then, when Nate wanted to make plans for the next time.

“What do you mean ‘there’s no need’?” Nate asked, frowning. He put the last t-shirt in his backpack and turned to look at Brad who shrugged.

“I’m going away in less than a month.”

“I’m aware of that,” Nate said in a distant voice that, looking back, maybe Brad should have paid more attention to.

“Well, there really isn’t going to be any chance of a long-distance booty-call, isn’t it?” Brad said. He thought it was obvious. “Anyway, I think we put OIF behind. I’m going to England, you’re going to Harvard. We’re moving on.”

“We’re moving on,” Nate repeated, crossing his arms.

“Yes. Am I missing something?” Brad really didn’t get why Nate was getting angry. It was unsettling.

Nate deflated a little, shaking his head.

“No, I guess... I guess I missed it. I should have... Nevermind. It’s fine.”

There was no fight. There was barely any discussion. Twenty minutes later Nate was out of the door and that was that.

”He sat me down and told me that a few months back he had his heart broken”. After five months of sleeping together, all Nate got in the end was basically “Thanks for a fun time, see you maybe-never, take care of yourself” and Brad had thought...

Well, it didn’t really matter what Brad thought, didn’t it? He was obviously wrong.

The bed in Nate’s guest room was much more comfortable than his couch, but it didn’t really help Brad fall asleep. His brain was stuck on the loop of the thought of Nate’s broken heart, on the realization that he misjudged the situation horribly and just left like Nate was a fuck, nothing more.

Brad had known back then that Nate didn’t want it to end when it did. He just didn’t think that the reason for it was something more than Brad’s skills in bed and their easy communication.

Apparently easy communication was just Brad being blind and stupid.

He got up and went to the kitchen, looking for water. Coffee would be a disaster right now, even if his chances of sleep were slim at this point. He sat at the kitchen table, swirling his bottle.

After a few minutes he heard the door open and after a few seconds someone was stumbling his way down the corridor. At least it sounded like stumbling, simple walking didn’t make so much noise, even for someone who wasn’t a Recon Marine.

But it was a Recon Marine. Nate appeared in the doorway, his hair going in every direction and Harvard t-shirt making him look like a college student. Someone he was supposed to be, would be, if life hadn’t fucked him over.

“Did I wake you up?” Brad asked. He thought he didn’t make any noise, but he was wrong a lot lately.

“No,” Nate said, coming in. He took a water bottle out of the fridge and leaned on the counter. “Ben did, he called me to talk.”

Brad nodded.

“If you want to ask me about…” Nate started, but Brad didn’t let him finish.

“You don’t need to explain anything to me.”

“Right,” Nate said, standing straight. “Okay, I just wanted to get something to drink. Good night.”

And he was gone, this time without almost any sound.

Brad didn’t have any idea what had just happened.

“Since you are back on the same continent that I am and you don’t have an excuse of the satellite phone, you could call me more often, you know.”

“Hello, Mother, how lovely to hear from you,” Brad said dryly, securing the helmet on his bike. “Apparently my absence led you to forgetting that I am in fact an adult.”

“Your sisters call me at least twice a week.”

“My sisters are…” pussies. “… different.”

“I’m just saying, once every two weeks wouldn’t hurt you,” his mom continued. Brad sat back on his bike. This could take a while.

“You never know.”


“You wanted me to grow up smart, remember?”

“I was obviously mistaken. I should have put more attention to teaching you how to use a phone.”

“Failure at parenting. Happens even to the best, I’m sure.”

“Apparently, yes.” She was smiling, he could bet. He was smiling too. “So, pleasantries exchanged, back to business. How are things?”

“Well, I’m alive and with all limbs attached.” That was a joke allowed only on American ground. Every time he was deployed, his mother lost her dark sense of humor the minute his plane, or ship, crossed the U.S border.

“I’m glad we established that. Where are you, anyway?”

“In Quantico. I’m meeting a friend soon, so I don’t have much…”

“Couldn’t pass by a Marine base, could you?” she was amused.

“Yes, Mom, I’m an addict,” he deadpanned. “I’m visiting another friend who lives nearby, actually. Nate Fick, remember, I told you about him.” At least some things.

“Your commanding officer in Iraq, of course I remember. You mentioned him a lot.”

“It’s not often we have a good officer like that.”

“It’s nice that you stayed friends.”

Brad had no idea what they were. He definitely wouldn’t call them friends for the last two years, and before that, well.

“Good officers aren’t easy to find. I kept this one close, so I wouldn’t forget they’re not all total fuck-ups.”

“How nice of you.”

“I try.”

“I bet you do.”

Brad looked at his watch.

“Look, Mom, I have to go now. I will call you.”

“You better,” she said with a warning in her voice. “Love you.”

“Me too,” he said and ended the call.

Steve Wilson was in Brad’s team in Afghanistan for four months before getting shot in the left leg gave him an one-way ticket back home. Since then, they met only once, three years ago, when Steve threw a farewell party before his transfer to Quantico. He was a sworn bachelor then, with the tendency to drink too much too often. Now he was married and expecting a child and he ordered black coffee with his fries.

“I don’t know if I should be happy or sorry for you right now,” Brad said, shaking his head.

“Fuck you, Colbert,” Steve laughed. “I have a beautiful woman and soon I will have a beautiful son. I’m not exactly missing my old ways.”

Brad nodded.

“I guess when you’re getting old...”

“Shut up, you’re older than me.”

“I still could kick your ass, though.”

“You probably would, my knee isn’t what it used to be. But it’s not a challenge to kick a cripple’s ass, so don’t be so happy about yourself.”

“Bad?” Brad asked, simply enough to give Steve a chance of changing the topic easily.

“Depends.” Steve shrugged. “They didn’t cut anything out and I can walk. That’s the important part.”

“It is,” Brad agreed. They both had friends who weren’t so lucky. “And you still can kick your recruits’ asses, I imagine.”

Steve groaned.

“Don’t remind me. I can’t believe we were so fucking green when we started.”

Brad shrugged. They were. They just didn’t really remember how it was back then, their bodies incapable of doing what was so ingrained in them now.

“Tell me what’s going on with you, Colbert. When did you come back?”

“Three weeks ago. It was fine, except there was no ocean, their command is worse than ours and it was either raining all the time in England or cold as fuck in Afghanistan.”

“In other words, it was great,” Steve said with a small crocked smile.

Brad grinned.

“Not bad.”

“What now, then?”

“My well-earned vacation. I still have a few weeks left before reporting back at Pendleton. After that, we’ll see.”

“We could use you here, you know.”

Brad shook his head.

“Not my time yet.”

“Figured,” Steve nodded. “Just thought I’d bring it to the table, if you’re considering options. And it’s an open invitation, so let me know when that time comes.”

“I will.”

There was a few minutes of easy silence while they both turned their attention to a game playing on the tv above the bar, but Steve turned to him again during the break.

“What are you doing here then, apart from being blessed by my company?”

“I’m on a road trip. Took my bike for a ride and here I am. This is a stop on the way.”


Brad shrugged.

“Nowhere special. I was thinking of reaching the East Coast and going back.”

“Do you have a place to stay? You can have our guest room, if you want.”

For a second or two, Brad considered it. Staying at Nate’s now was doing more bad than good, bringing more questions than answers he came looking for.

“Thanks, but I’m staying with a friend already,” he said in the end and added “Nate Fick, I was with him in Iraq.”

“Fick? I know him. He works at Wringley’s now, right?”

The world was small, a Marine’s world even smaller. That was why he even mentioned Nate’s name, it wasn’t unusual for guys to know each other or of each other by a grapevine of gossip and stories. Brad was still surprised that it was a recovery center Steve knew Nate from. He didn’t ask, though. Everyone was coping in their own ways, but not many of them wanted to share with the class when those ways involved therapy.

“Good guy,” Steve commented.

“Yeah, he is.” Couldn’t argue with that one.

Nate’s legs were spread open, an invitation Brad never was able to resist. He moved his hips so their dicks would touch, eliciting a breathy moan from Nate.

“Fuck,” he whispered. “Brad.”

“Yeah,” he said, his mouth tracing the line of Nate’s neck to the collarbone, when his teeth joined his tongue in exploring the freckled skin.

Nate had one hand at the nape of Brad’s neck, in turns gripping it hard and petting lightly. The other one was on his ass, bringing Brad closer to him.

“I need you to fuck me right now,” Nate’s words were breathed out on his cheek, the air warmer still, even when it was already so hot their bodies were sweaty and flushed all over.

“Anything,” Brad answered him, one hand already looking for lube and a condom. Nate closed his eyes and tilted his head back, his throat exposed and right there, for the taking. Brad’s lips couldn’t resist and latched on to that expanse of skin, his tongue tracing the pulsing underneath it.

Brad’s finger circled Nate’s hole before slowly slipping in and Brad bit his lips to stop the moan from escaping. There was something, Brad didn’t know what, about having his fingers inside someone else, something that spoke to the lizard part of his brain. It wasn’t better than his dick, not like that. But it was the closest thing to that feeling of having someone, that edge of surpassing someone’s control. Brad could barely take a breath at the thought of fisting Nate one day.

He was moving his fingers in Nate now, in and out, and grinding his dick down to meet Nate’s. Nate’s moans went from breathless to loud and his fingers were leaving their marks on Brad’s skin, demanding more and closer and faster without saying anything but Brad and fuck.

There was a surprisingly light kiss left on Brad’s jaw and he leaned in instinctively for a second, before moving away to put a condom on.

The feeling of Nate’s hand gripping his hip and the look of him, laying under Brad, open and wanting, was the last image Brad saw before he opened his eyes to the darkness of Nate’s guest room. It was also the image that Brad was still thinking about when he took a hold of his dick and jacked himself off until he came.

It took a couple of minutes for him to move to clean himself up. After that, he lied on his side, staring at the door. He imagined going to Nate’s bedroom and recreating this half dream, half memory.

For an hour he didn’t move, his breathing in control and his eyes not leaving the door.

Apparently he was a mix of a Recon Marine and a sixteen-year-old with a... a hard-on for his ex. Fantastic.

The door wasn’t closed. If they wanted privacy, they would make sure the door was closed.

Okay, fine, Brad was eavesdropping. He looked around, but there was no one else there. An empty corridor, wide and bright from the light coming from the big windows, yellow walls making it look even more... calm and positive. Brad didn’t even feel like it was trying too hard. That counted for a lot, he supposed.

“Just say whatever comes to your mind,” Nate’s voice was calm and strong, both similar and different than his commanding voice. “If someone else agrees or has or had the same experience and wants to let us know, please just snap your fingers, okay? It can be whatever you want, big or small, as long as it starts with ‘every’.”

Brad shook his head and wanted to step back, but Nate continued.

“I can start,” he said and Brad couldn’t make himself move. “Every time I run there’s a moment when I forget that I’m back. I forget that it’s not a part of a training or a mission. It can be anything, a smell that reminds me of a gun, a woman that looks like one I’ve seen in Iraq, anything. It’s usually just a moment, but I forget.”

Brad heard a snap, then the second one.

“I forget it sometimes when I’m driving,” someone said. “The road changes for a moment and there’s no asphalt, just ruins and blind windows.”

The wall behind Brad’s back was warm, too warm, his t-shirt clung to his back and he felt glued to it.

“Every time I wake up from a nightmare, my boyfriend asks me what I was dreaming about,” a woman spoke up next. “I tell him it’s war stuff, but I’m afraid one time I will tell him everything.”

Three snaps.

“Every window is a window I may jump out of,” a muffled male voice was next. There was a snap even before the guy finished speaking. “It was terrifying for my wife when I told her, but it calms me down. The thought just... comes to my mind and it relaxes me.”

Two more snaps.

“Every kid I see looks similar to a kid I’ve seen in Iraq.”

Two snaps. The third one, Brad’s, sounded awfully loud in the empty corridor.

“Okay, I guess I’ve shown you everything” Nate said when they went back to the entry hall of Wringley’s. “It’s really better to see it in action, during sessions and meetings and things like that. But it’s obviously impossible to show it without you being here for help.”

“I’ll pass.”

“I thought you might say that,” Nate smiled a little. “If you ever change your mind, there are open sessions once a month for new people or people thinking about joining us. And I’m not running them, if that’s what would stop you.”

“It’s not.”

“It’s a rule to not treat the people we know anyway,” Nate continued. “I knew Will - he’s the guy running this place - from the OCS. And he was the one who told me to come here when I needed it, but he didn’t treat me.”

“Are you trying to get me to sign up?” Brad asked, amused. “Therapy isn’t for me. Everyone has their methods and that’s perfectly fine. Some have therapy...”

“And you have your bike,” Nate finished for him with a smile.

“And I have my bike,” he agreed, smiling back. “It works.”

“I’m not telling you to do anything. I’m just used to presenting Wringley’s as an option for dealing with what a person can’t or won’t deal on their own.”

“You work here, you have to advertise it to people.”

“You caught me. I’m doing this for money,” Nate said with a straight face.


Nate shrugged.

“Well, it worked for me, so I’m kind of double biased now.”

There it was, the opening he was looking for since he arrived. It wasn’t the best place for it, but you make do with what you’re given.

“Speaking of...” he started and looked at Nate with his eyebrows raised.

“Ah,” Nate said, shaking his head. “The Conversation is due.”

“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to.” It was obvious, but Brad felt it needed to be said anyway.

“I know. But you want to know and I can tell you. It’s not something I’d shout from the roof, but I’m not ashamed of it either,” Nate explained, before adding quietly: “Anymore.”

Brad didn’t say there was nothing to be ashamed for. It was one thing to think so in general or towards your friends, it was another to let yourself believe that when it happened to you.

“Maybe here isn’t the best place for it, though,” he said instead, looking around. “I’m not a therapist after all.” He looked Nate in the eyes again. “I ask as a friend.”

“And I will tell you as a friend,” Nate nodded not looking away from Brad. “But let’s go home first. We will order pizza and talk.”

Brad nodded. He remembered other nights with pizza and beer. And sex. He remembered them being simple, easy. Knowing what he did now, he wondered what else he missed, what Nate was really offering him then. What he was inviting him to.

He shook his head. Never-mind now. Now it was an evening with a friend.

“Sounds good.”

The first time Brad realized he really, really wanted to fuck Nate was when he saw him in the morning after a paddle party held at Nate’s house. Most of the guys went back to the base, but a couple of them stayed over, sleeping now on every horizontal space available.

Brad left the bathroom and came in to the kitchen, only to be greeted by Nate inhaling his coffee, leaning against the counter, dressed in fucking sweatpants and a red t-shirt with a name of some band Brad never heard of.

“Turning into a pussy civilian so soon?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

His fucking libido was still drunk, apparently, because it decided that Nate Fick was hot beyond any reason. Brad had seen Nate in all states of dress and a state of being half-dressed, but he never had a reaction like this one. When Nate was wearing sweatpants.

He wanted to fuck his commanding officer. Well, maybe blow him first, push him against that counter and make him lose it, but he wanted to fuck him, too.

Brad didn’t have time to wonder then if it was some kind of a switch that went on after Nate stopped officially being his superior, because Gunny came in to the kitchen with bleary eyes and a prayer for coffee on his lips.

But the thought was there from then on.

After that Brad saw Nate in sweatpants more than once and every time he did, he remembered that morning, the first moment of conscious want.

Just like right now.

They came back to Nate’s place, ordered pizza and Nate left him to go take a shower. Now he was sitting next to him in his stupid sweatpants and his Marines t-shirt (not Harvard, Brad noticed, and wondered if it was important), and Brad couldn’t help remembering.

But he was also very good at repressing things he didn’t want to think about.

They both ate about half of their respectful pizzas before Nate started talking.

“It wasn’t because of the war,” he said suddenly. “Well, okay, it was, in the end, but it wasn’t Iraq that triggered PTSD.”

Brad didn’t expect that. When the guys told him, he assumed it just caught up to Nate later. It wasn’t unusual to have a delayed response.

“Among the platoon only Mike knows the details and I doubt he told the guys more than he thought was necessary or wise.” Nate paused for a moment. “It’s not like this is a terrible secret, it’s just the way it is. Mike knows and everyone else knows from Mike, so it was whatever he told them it was.”

“From what I gathered, he didn’t tell them much. PTSD got you and you had to leave school.”

There was a flicker of hurt in Nate’s eyes, visible to Brad only because he wasn’t taking his eyes off Nate’s face.

“Well, that’s the truth. But it’s not the version you came here for.”

Brad wasn’t even sure what he came here for anymore, but it didn’t matter right now. He did want to know the whole story. He nodded.

“After,” Nate waved a hand between them, “the last time we saw each other, I decided I need to do something... outside of my space. I didn’t want to stay at home until it was time to leave for college. I would go crazy. And my brother decided he missed me, so I absolutely had to come spend some time with him in Santa Cruz when he was done with his finals.” There was an amused smile on Nate’s face that reminded Brad of a few times when he caught Nate smiling about something Ray said before he turned away.

Brad vaguely remembered Nate mentioning his younger brother in the past, but nothing more than “One time me and my brother” or “My brother always says”.

“And everything was fine, if a little crazy. He and his friends were trying to get me to surf.”

Brad snorted.

“I would pay to see that.”

“I would give you a show for free,” Nate said and Brad shoved a piece of pizza in his mouth to not make a sound, “but I’m never going to try surfing. I leave that for crazy people,” he grinned at Brad.

“You were in the Marine Corps,” Brad said to that, raising his eyebrows. “You are perfectly crazy.”

Nate laughed.


They just sat for a few minutes, eating in companionable silence. Then Nate put his empty pizza box on the coffee table and his face changed, making him look his age. It was something that Brad witnessed only a few times in Iraq.

“We were coming back from the bar one night, just him and me, because his friends decided to stay and drink themselves under the table. We were talking shit. I was giving him a hard time about a girl he liked and he was going on and on about how he would get me laid before I leave. Suddenly, there are these three guys and they shove us into an alley.” Nate’s fingers were drawing invisible lines up and down the cushion, his eyes trailing the movement. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.”

Brad put down his bottle and turned so he sat facing Nate. There was no point of telling him he shouldn’t beat himself up.

“Turns out my brother knows them,” Nate continued. “Somehow he got himself involved with guys selling drugs.” He shook his head like he still couldn’t believe that. “He apparently pissed them off when he didn’t give them the money he owed them.”

“Was he taking or dealing?” Brad asked quietly.

“A little bit of both. ‘Just a little for extra fun’, as he put it later. But the fun part ends quite fast that night when one of the guys pulls out a gun and puts it to his head.”

Nate put his legs up against his chest and was staring at the blank tv screen. Brad couldn’t take his eyes away from him.

“And all that I can think of, over and over again, is ‘I don’t have my gun, I don’t have my gun’,” Nate’s voice was speeding up and then it slowed down again. “Like everything would be alright if I just had my gun on me. Like it wasn’t totally fucked up from the start. I wanted to blow the guy’s head off for even pointing the gun at my brother.”

There was a silence Brad didn’t know what to do with. He was okay with staying silent most of the time, preferred it, really, but silence like that left him looking for something to say. He thought that maybe Nate wanted him to ask.

“What happened after?”

“I disarmed the guy and knocked out two of them before the third one pulled out his own gun. I dealt with him too, but not before he shot at my brother.” Nate looked down at his hands. “He hit him in the leg. It healed easily, though. Mark could run less than two months after.”

“Were you hurt?”

Nate shook his head.

“No. I was fine. Well, except finding out my brother was a dealer. And that he got shot,” he said with a dry, forced smile.

Brad tried to imagine what that could be like, but there was no way either of his sisters (a history teacher and an engineer) would ever be involved with drugs. He used up all the rebellion and craziness in their family.

“Where is he now?”

“Back in school,” Nate said quietly. “After he got shot, he remembered he’s got a brain and got himself cleaned up. He was never addicted, he was just... ‘taking the whole college experience a little too far’,” he said with air quotes. “ And he felt really bad about me getting dragged into this, especially when it became obvious that was what triggered my thing.”

That was the first time Brad heard Nate referred to it as anything different than what it was. Now it was his thing.

“Few weeks after that, back home again, I had at least half of the symptoms from the list. I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares, flashbacks, my emotions were all over the place. It continued like that through whole summer, but I tried to go to college anyway. I had to drop out after a few weeks, though.”

Nate was completely drained from any emotion at this point. Just straight facts, A happened, B happened, so in the end C happened. Forget the fact that C was actually what broke his big fucking dream.

“I’m sorry,” Brad said quietly and those weren’t just empty words. Nate being forced to drop out from Harvard was way worse than him being involved in a fight with guns present.

Nate nodded in acknowledgement, like he understood. He probably did.

“That’s how I ended up at Wringley’s. I met Will and he said I should come here and see if it would work for me. I needed to get away from home anyway, so it seemed like a good idea. And it was. I got better and after that I just never left. I started working here first as an advisor and something like a mentor for some of the patients. Later I started to do more and more and here I am.”

What about going back to school? Brad thought, but he didn’t ask.

“Are you good here?” he chose instead.

“Yes,” Nate said with conviction, and Brad believed him. Nate was a fixer and he liked challenges. It seemed like a good fit. “I feel useful here and like we actually do make a difference.”

That last thing was something the Marine Corps wasn’t able to give him and that was maybe the main reason he decided to leave.

“That’s good.”

Not great, but it looked like it had a chance to become that, too. In time.

Part Two


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August 2013

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